So normally I only post twice a month on Sundays, but, in light of the last few weeks and with Thanksgiving looming in just a few short days, I wanted to share some additional thoughts with you about how to navigate the holiday this year post-election 2016.
And head’s up: this blog post– structured in a Q & A format of the most frequently asked questions I’ve heard folks asking in the last week — is specifically written for those of us who voted for Hillary and who may be spending Thanksgiving with relatives, friends, or community members who may have voted for Trump.
But regardless of who is around your holiday table this year and no matter which way they voted, I hope my thoughts and answers below feel supportive and helpful to you as you enter the holiday this week.
Question: So what do I do if I’m heading out to spend Thanksgiving with people who may have voted for Trump and who will probably bring up politics at the dinner table? Or what do I do if I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year and I’m wary about arguments breaking out as we gather?
Answer: My recommendation would be that if you are in the hosting role, you take a proactive leadership and set the tone and “ground rules” at the start of the gathering by setting clear boundaries for your guests that you feel comfortable with.
For instance, are you comfortable with folks talking politics at the meal or perhaps afterwards in the living room? Are you okay with political discussions at any stage of the gathering as long as voices are not raised or the topic is not raised around children? If you’re not okay with politics being discussed at all this year at Thanksgiving, how can you politely but firmly state this and instead suggest that your friends and family join you in conversation this year by intentionally focusing on what went well in each other’s lives in 2016, what common bonds tie you all together, what your wishes for your friends and family in 2017 look like, etc..
If you are headed to a holiday gathering and not in the hosting role, I would suggest that you check in with the host at the start of the gathering to see what they personally feel comfortable with and then honor that person’s boundaries as much as possible (if that feels like something you can reasonably do). One option if your host doesn’t want any political conversations to take place at Thanksgiving is to offer to speak with someone offline, after the holiday, meeting up with them at a coffee shop or over the phone to continue the dialogue.
Question: I still feel like I’m grieving this election and I’m worried about spending the holidays with people who I know voted for Trump and who might not be very supportive. I know it sounds silly, but I’m really hurting. How do you think I can take care of myself this holiday season?
Answer: First and foremost I think it’s critical to acknowledge and legitimize your own grief. This election has shaken many of us to the core and the intensity of emotions we are experiencing post election are painful and very real. It’s not silly at all to still feel emotionally impacted by the election!
Therefore, if you’re still grieving and emotionally impacted, I would invite you to consider whether or not it even makes sense to join a holiday gathering where there may be vocal and enthusiastic Trump supporters present. When you’re grieving, you need to take very good care of yourself, and sometimes taking care of yourself can look like staying away from triggering people and situations. Even holiday gatherings. At least temporarily.
If it’s not an option for you to do this and you still anticipate spending Thanksgiving with relatives, friends, or community members who may have voted for Donald Trump this year, you can consider taking care of yourself in others ways such as setting clear boundaries about when/if/and how you’re available to engage in political conversations, practicing self-soothing by stepping out into the kitchen or backyard when things get too heated, or even having some good, empathetic and politically-similar friends on a group text chain that day so you can all offer each other emotional support throughout the day.
Check in and see what boundaries you may need and want to hold with those whose opinions differ from you, and then get curious about ways you can take care of yourself if those folks can’t or won’t honor the boundaries you set.
Question: I’m headed out or hosting a holiday gathering where I know there will be people who voted for Trump and I feel really strongly I should try and talk with them about why I’m worried about him as a President and I feel like I should ask why they voted for him. How can I have these conversations without offending people? Or, offending them as little as possible?
Answer: Famed Gestalt psychotherapist Fritz Perls once said that “Contact is the appreciation of differences.” And the co-founder of Esalen Institute and another Gestalt thought leader, Dick Price, later added, “And recognition of similarities.” So I would invite you to bear this in mind — that relational contact is the appreciation of differences and recognition of similarities — when you feel a personal obligation or draw to discuss differing political views with folks this Thanksgiving.
In approaching conversation with someone who has a differing political view than you, how can you make relational contact with them by actually appreciating the differences between you? Can you practice curiosity and really lean into their worldview and why they may have voted the way they did? Can you imagine actually valuing the diversity of opinion they may bring to the conversation and actually be open to being influenced by what they have to say? (and note: I’m not saying you have to be persuaded that Donald Trump was the better candidate AT ALL; moreover I’m wondering if you can be persuaded to see the place that person was coming from when they voted?) And then can you recognize any similarities between your differing perspectives? Is there something that fundamentally you both are longing for but are seeking out in different ways through your support of candidates?
When we approach conversations from a place of curiosity and a willingness to making authentic contact with the other person, we can create the opportunity for less reactive, more engaged and possibly more fruitful dialogue.
And in the course of these conversations if you feel compelled to share more about your worldview, the reason why you voted the way you did, the activism steps you may be planning on taking, etc., by all means do so if that feels right for you. By setting up a conversation that’s marked by curiosity and not defensiveness, perhaps the person sitting across from you will be more open to hearing about your worldview, too.
Q: What are some of the tips you have for me and others who still may be grieving the election process?
1. Take all the time you need to fully process your feelings about this election. Losses and shifts in our lives – particularly one of this magnitude – are traumatic. And traumas need to be honored by allowing yourself all the time and space you need to feel your full range of feelings. Give yourself the time and space you need to grieve what’s just occurred.
2. If you notice that your everyday functioning is being impaired by your post-election feelings, reach out and get professional support. I cannot overstate how triggering this election has been for some people, particularly those with trauma or abuse histories. If you need support to manage and process your feelings about this election, please reach out to a therapist local to your area and get the support you deserve.
3. Connect with like-minded others who are sharing in your experience of shock, anger, and grief. Whether online or off, connecting with those who are sharing in our reality can help ease the sense of isolation and helplessness that so many of us may be feeling right now in the wake of the election. (I’m a big fan of the “secret” Facebook groups, Pantsuit Nation and Feminist Fight Club.)
4. Start or continue your own personal work. Now, more than ever, we are each being called upon to be conscious of the abusive and painful parts in ourselves and others that can create damage and divisiveness in our homes, communities, and in our country. Consider deepening your understanding of deeply entrenched systemic social justice issues like racism, xenophobia, misogyny, etc. And remember that the more we do our own personal work and heal and mend the broken, shadow parts in ourselves, the more equipped we will be to show up and held mend the torn fabric of our society moving forward.
5. As much as possible, return to the present and challenge your scary future-oriented thoughts. While it’s normal and natural for our minds to race ahead and create an imaginary scary future, the reality is that none of us has a crystal ball. We simply don’t know what the coming weeks, months, and years will hold. So as much as possible, try to combat your anxious thoughts by coming back to present, grounding yourself in the safety of your present reality, and continue taking very good care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Regardless of what the future holds, anxiety can consume a lot of physical energy and all of us will need as much energy as possible to address any actual realities or threats that may arrive down the road. So take care of yourself as best you can now.